Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ojai Day, a community celebration and arts festival...


I was asked to answer a set of questions for an interview in the Ojai Valley News tab that is printed especially for this community event. I feel honored! Here goes:

What am I doing for Ojai Day this year?
I am attempting to update the Ojai Day website that I designed last year, one or two pages per night, as new information streams in. I have made the 2011 cover for the Ojai Recreation Department's FALL QUARTER schedule of classes, etc., featuring Ojai Day in pictures. We are advertising in Ojai Quarterly magazine with a full page ad also... I do much of the print design for our event, such as post cards, rack cards and flyers galore for schools and businesses celebrating the event and promoting all of its various sponsors. I have, by default, become the coordinator of graphics for Ojai Day, working with a growing crew of talented designers who have volunteered their expertise in various areas. Hooray for volunteers!
How long have I been involved with the Ojai Day crew?
Uhhhhhhh.... long time, mid-'90's, I think
What have I done in the past?
I painted a dark blue banner that stretched across Ojai Avenue back in last century, and I think that's when I was hooked. What a privilege it is to be involved in this creative community celebration!
What do I do the rest of the year?
I tell people that I do everything I can to avoid having a real job. I am self-employed as a graphic designer, web designer, apps animation graphics designer, fine artist, freelance illustrator, sculptor, hand engraver, die maker, scrimshander, art teacher of nearly-lost hand skilled arts and cartoonist for the Ojai Valley News. Many people know me only for the cartoonist position, for which I am humbly grateful.
Background info: How long have I lived in Ojai?
I came to Ojai in fall of 1967 just before I entered Nordhoff High School as a freshman. I was fresh meat, didn't know a soul. I got involved in working on the yearbook at Nordhoff because I wanted to learn who was who, and my first gig was sorting class photos and spelling names correctly. I ran for Sophomore class president against another newby named Ken Vadnais and won by a slim margin, I'm sure - I probably made more election promises than Ken. I am not sure that Ken ever forgave me! I'll ask him at our 40th reunion.
What brought me to Ojai?
My father was looking for a comfortable community away from the madding crowds of Los Angeles County where he could raise his two younger kids and start his own business. My two older brothers were already young men on their own when my folks moved my younger brother, Neal, and myself to rural little Ojai. When we arrived, Ojai wasn't even considered an artists community or a visitor destination yet - it was more agricultural and back-woodsy. The new agers had discovered it as a spiritual center at the beginning of the century, though, and private schools were well established, too.
What is the story about my family?
My father had a hazy memory of Ojai in his mind because he was in the Navy during WWII, stationed at Point Mugu and San Nicolas Island. His CASU 8(Carrier Aircraft Service Unit) was given R&R at the Ojai Valley Inn, and the swabbies spent most of their free time in an alcoholic haze between beer drinking bouts at Camp Comfort area on Creek Road (where they could walk to from the rear exit of the Inn's grounds) and The Wheel bar near Wheeler's Gorge where the "world's smallest post office" sent out letters and post cards that were postmarked with those words in the hand cancel stamp. Because of the impaired memory of this beautiful Shangrila, my family spent the weekends of the first half of 1967 searching Santa Paula and Fillmore for suitable workspace and family home. Nothing seemed to fit, thank goodness. One day we came to the lookout over Ojai Valley from Dennison Grade, and my father said, "Wait just a minute..." as his eyes and memory focused. We drove down the hill into Ojai Valley from the east end, and the rest, as they say, is history.

My three daughters grew up in Ojai: Jessica Mills Trent, Ally Mills and Michele Seliger. They tolerate my involvement with the Ojai Day event. Two of them have helped paint mandalas beside me, and my eldest brings two of my grandchildren every year, wouldn't miss it! This year I will have a table at the flagpole in Libbey Park, in the interactive demonstration area, next to Ojai's own bubble blowing artist/sculptor, Dennis Shives. I will be demonstrating scrimshaw and hand engraving at my bench, welcoming friends to the park activities. My grandkids, my daughters and my mother Lola will help me man the booth - four generations! That's SO Ojai!



Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day 14: The Sidewalk Mime Artist's Prediction

The Santa Cruz Boardwalk seemed like a perfect venue for street performers, but I was a little surprised that I only witnessed one such artist. A young woman in whiteface sat amid a small altar of make believe, dressed as a dolly with a white parasol. I had been walking behind a little girl and her daddy, watching the child spin and twirl and dawdle down the walkway as her father encouraged her to come along, maybe a little faster, please?

The girl stopped in her tracks as her eyes settled on the Dolly Mime. She watched as the mime rose slowly, turning a graceful full circle as she stepped up on her platform. There, she struck a pose. The child was mesmerized.

The little one moved forward and touched the Dolly Mime's dress hem. It seemed as though she instantly believed the mime to be a life-sized doll. A crowd began to gather. A man in the crowd began to taunt "I saw you MOVE!" until his ladyfriend shushed him. The little girl continued to stare as the Dolly Mime broke the pose long enough to lean down prettily, taking a scrap of paper from her pocket to hand to the child.

I moved in, trying not to disturb the spell and tucked a dollar into the vase on the altar's edge, and stepped back to snap a picture. The child gazing at the living dolly was just too precious. The Dad fumbled with his cell phone to take a picture also, definitely a Kodak moment to carry home.

As I turned to walk away, someone in the crowd said, "Hey lady, the clown's got something for you!" I looked back, and the Dolly Mime was holding a scrap of paper out to ME. I mumbled thanks as I took it and stuffed it in my pocket. I didn't stop to look at it. Thought maybe it was a coupon for a local slice of pizza or something like that. Maybe her performance art was sponsored.

Instead it said this:

I was stunned. How could the Dolly Mime have known? I have been on this road trip and quest for two weeks, and tomorrow I return home to family, my Ojai home, and friends. It has been a wonderful vacation, also filled with family and friends. I feel renewed! But, I am going HOME, no magical red slippers, completely by choice, and the best is yet to come.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My Road Trip/Quest, day 14: Santa Cruz! People watching on the Boardwalk...

The last overnight of my Road Trip/Quest! Here I am at the very crowded Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California, just because I have always wanted to experience it. And it's Saturday. And the weather is incredible. The beach is packed, there's no place to park - and since I thought to book ahead, I have accommodations AND a parking spot! Ah, life is good.

I love to people watch. People are the funniest looking critters that ever were, especially when they are on vacation, wearing their vacation costumes and exposing slabs of skin that haven't recently been introduced to the sun. I tend to draw cartoons inside my head, so I am easily entertained on days like today!

I decided that I needed a hot dog to celebrate the Coney Island atmosphere that I was experiencing. Thank God I remembered to bring my Tums! But check out the artistry of this All Beef Original With Everything:

It's truly an artistic statement, a work of art, although the kid that made it was named Sean. Anyway, I needed to share the visual with you, and I need another Tums.


Day 13: Visiting Michael and Pat


Our house is a very, very fine house
With two cats in the yard...

... and Shiloh, that big beautiful smiling dog. The two cats are named Jack Russell and his littermate whose name escapes me at the moment, and the yard is filled with flowers and veggies. The front house is a 1915 Craftsman style two story home that Michael and Pat have refurbished and decorated in period style. They lease it out to folks seeking to attend the Masterpiece School of Fine Woodworking in Fort Bragg, California. http://www.masterpieceschool.com/

Michael and Pat live in the back house. It's a very, very fine house...

Life used to be so hard, Now everything is easy
'Cause of you
And Our House...

Each of them worked the original Renaissance Faire and subsequent offspring Faires for the life of their careers. Pat was a haberdasher - I guess that's what it is called - she made hats for sale at the Faires. Michael invented a drophammer show that stamps designs in metal while you watch, so that you may purchase a customized medallion to to take home as a souvenir. That's how I met Michael some 35 years ago, when he sought out my father's expertise in die making. Now somewhat retired, they have melded their long friendship into a longer term personal relationship and business agreement with their very, very fine house. Very, very cool people.

Day 13: Trees of Mystery!! This one's for you, Jessica...

My dad always hated "Tourist Traps". We kids were encouraged to loathe them, too, but when my kids came along, I wanted to indulge a little in forbidden territories such as The Trees Of Mystery, the little tourist trap that advertises with billboards for MILES and MILES of Hwy 101. The place is emblazoned in my eldest daughter's memory as a very cool place to include on a family vacation to Northern California. So, Jess, this one's for you.

I thought I'd stop in to see if Paul Bunyan would talk to me as he had when I was about 13 or so, the one time when my brother Neal and I whined loudly and long enough to make a stop at the fabled Trees. Well, I probably did the whining. Neal was too cool to actually whine, even at 7 years old. Paul has a smooth deep radio voice that emanates from a speaker hidden in his chest hairs, and he keeps up a lively real-time conversation with the folks approaching the entrance, asking where they are from, how they like the weather today, have they met his friend Babe The Blue Ox?

I had always assumed that Babe was a girl, perhaps a sort of a life partner of Paul, the lonely North Woods Loggerman. I think this trip was a real eye-opener for me, and my Babe Epiphany was helped along by the family in my photo. Now, you'll have to take my word for most of the story, because when all the major action was taking place, I was in the middle of changing my camera batteries. I fail at being a action photojournalist. I will leave that up to Logan Hall.

The man and his son had ducked under the clueless Babe The Blue Ox. When I looked up from my battery fumbling, just as the woman was focusing and saying, "Are you ready?" I saw that they had each placed one hand on Babe's - um, bullsack. Yup, Babe's definitely male. Funny I had never noticed those before...

My Road Trip/Quest, day 13: From Crescent City, California, and beyond!


I broke out the watercolor box and just began. My daughter Jessica checked in with me by cellphone and when I told her my exciting news, she congratulated me. "You cracked it open, Mom! Now there's no stopping!" She knows me better than most, having raised me for 35 years.

I had hoped to paint a little each day of this quest, but driving and questing AND painting proved a little too ambitious as a steady job. I forgot about the necessary sleep time, those wasted hours between driving and musing. But on the 13th day, I got serious and just began. I haven't used watercolors much in the last few years, painting with acrylic on canvas instead. Whole different breed of medium. I love the way one has to allow the watercolor to lead, and to have its way with the paper. As an artist, I feel as if I have to surrender a little - if I get too pushy with watercolor it all turns to mud.

Hmmm, as I re-read that last paragraph, it sounds a little like a metaphor for my love life. Pretty sad, huh?

My Road Trip/Quest, day 12: Why do some settlements flourish and grow?


Ever since I was a little kid (I was a weird little kid, ask my brother) on family road trips, I wondered why some places seemed to take hold and grow in population and popularity and others just sorta stayed stillborn, becoming ghost towns, never flourishing, nothing left but a historical marker - if that. I went 8 miles off the main drag to check out the Hughes House. There were welcoming signs offering house tours, but I was the only person there. I wondered if a ghostly docent dressed in period clothing might materialize on the porch, eager for company. It was a little Twilight Zonish, so I read the outside self-guides and left without rapping on the door.

The ranch had been a prosperous dairy farm before the WWII but the war took away the manpower and the prosperity dwindled. No town grew up there. A little further down the road Port Orford took root and still stands, small-town style, even today. But the Hughes House stands alone.
I drove a little beyond the Victorian mansion of a farmhouse that was standing sentinel over the windswept mouth of the Sixes River, straight and tall and lonely. I came to the cemetery sign. I stopped to investigate. Another sign posted assured me that the remains had all been tidily re-interred elsewhere. Yeah, sure, I'll believe that... so I took a deep breath and walked down the recently weed whacked path to the cemetery's empty graves and read the handful of gravestones. Mr. Dowey had been there, and Mr. and Mrs. McMullen. I think McMaster had been there, too, but the limestone was hard to read. All had lived well into their 80's, though, with the Mrs. M living to 93. All Irish, undoubtedly Catholic, it being a St. Mary by the Sea Catholic cemetery. No other stones to be read. I imagined there had been plenty of souls laid to rest there, and if any were still around about, they must have been benevolent. No hackles were raised on the back of my neck, no creepy feelings on any other body parts, either. Did I actually write "body parts"? ewww, sorry.

My Road Trip/Quest, day11: Photo Ops, lots and lots...


I left Newport, Oregon, behind and headed down the Oregon Coast in a bubble of beautiful weather. I stopped several times to snap photos to bring home with me for inspiration. Plenty of watercolor paintings lie ahead of me to chronicle this trip. I think my next art show which is scheduled for the spring of 2011 at the Ojai Community Bank will feature this road trip prominently.


There were so many photo ops! This was Ono Beach. I like the way that so many varieties of plants, flowers and grasses grow right down to the sand in Oregon. Of course, this grass was on an overhanging cliff above Ono, but I am still impressed. I think it's pretty. Onolicious for da eyes, eh JoAnn? I headed for Coos Bay to stay overnight.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Cousin Randy, How to be in touch with one's Inner Child...



I have blogged that I visited with my Uncle Gheen and Cousin Chris in Tigard, Portland and Neahkawnie Beach but I have yet to mention my cousin Randy. Not an oversight, it is just that Randy needs an entry dedicated to Randy.

Since my Road Trip is a Quest of sorts, a Huh-Hell-Paying-Attention disconnection from my otherwise tightly connected current lifestyle, I am taking some time to muse about the random contacts that occur and the interconnectedness of it all. I write "It's all about ME!" and I am joking around, but in so many ways, this quest IS all about me and where I fit in - to the moment, to my road trip, to my family - it has been good. It is my study of contentment, and what that word means to each of us.

So it was very good to watch Cousin Randy share the delight of his "Inner Child" with all of us over the 4th of July holiday. He LOVES pyrotechnics, has made a lifelong avocation of experimenting with acetylene, a welding gas, with occasional dire consequences. This weekend, though, he was gleeful to share a milder, controlled display of his hobby in the form of homemade fireworks that he called a pinwheel. I captured one of his trials in the video attached.

I remember my cousin Randy as a little kid. He was very different then, as now. I am 4 or 5 years older than him, and the first memories I have of him as a toddler was his inability to communicate. He was mute and disconnected. There were no labels then that described his peculiarity, as there exist today. He just didn't talk. His folks eventually sent him to a school for the deaf, where he learned to sign a little bit, but he wasn't deaf.

Then his little brother was born. Chris was a baby dynamo, physically running circles around his disconnected brother and talking virtual circles around him, too. Eventually Randy forced himself to speak out, probably in self-defense. The Amazing Rando was born at that time, too. Even before he could communicate very well verbally, I remember that Randy shared his interests and absolute genius with those of us who recognized the clues - he couldn't say "HEY! Hey, look at me!" as so many little kids do, but if you took the time to watch, Randy beamed. And he still beams, when he shares his Inner Child's imagination. That may be a sort of contentment for my cousin. His brother STILL picks on him, calls him Rando and plenty of other names (some of which are unmentionable) and teases as brothers do - truly out of love. Chris would defend his brother fiercely, too, if there was any need for his defense. Randy expresses himself perfectly now, with words that reflect his intelligence and view of life which seems untainted by the involvement of emotion - at least outward emotion. Randy's inner emotions may be another story entirely, but he hasn't shared those with me. Perhaps he can't share them.

He HAS shared his pyro glee and his pinwheels. I came a long way to see them, and he has come a long way to share himself with me. I love you, Randy. Stay happy.



video

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Neskowen, Oregon: As far as the eye can see...

There were rolls and rolls of them in the farmlands outside of Neskowen along the coast route through Oregon. Rolling hills, atypically sunny weather, and these giant rolls stood out all over the hillsides against the green-gold backdrop.

Being a silly City Girl from Southern California, I never knew where toilet paper came from - I thought it grew on trees...

My Road Trip/Quest, day 10: Cheesy and delicious!

I took the suggestion of my friend Jennie and stopped in at Tillamook to check out the cheesemaking process and taste a cheese curd. I parked and waddled to the visitor's entrance and noticed that many of my fat sticky fellow tourists were settling around outside the entrance to enjoy their double-decker ice cream waffle cones. The weather was perfect, clear and beautiful, and their puffy arms and legs were bared to the sun. I silently wondered how many of them were obese due to the years of indoctrination we all received from the dairy industry about how incredibly healthy milk and milk products are for us Americans.

Having fought fat all my life, and still not winning the fight (but getting healthier by increments!) I could commiserate silently with my chubby uncomfortable-looking fellow humans. I would have loved to join them in slorping away at an oversized ice cream treat, but I have learned that the consequences for my personal bod are not worth the discomfort, and the long-term health problem with obesity only gets worse when I put milk and sugar on it!

Didn't keep me away from the cheese curd entirely, though. You're right Jennie, good stuff! That's me in the picture above, turned into a cow. But only temporarily.

My Road Trip/Quest, days 8 & 9: The Beach House, Manzanita's Parade, My Cousins & Unk


Yeehaw! I made it to Tigard, just outside of Portland, Oregon, where my cousin Christopher Abbott lives. My entire road trip/quest bloomed because of conversations I have had with my cousin over the last year, particularly since October 2010 when I loosely promised to spend the 4th of July with him and extended family at their beach house in Manzanita/Neahkahnie. We planned to rally family from all points of the country to gather for a reunion celebration. It would be epic!

I showed up. Circumstances for everyone else shifted and melted and evaporated, hmmmm... sounds like my car's radiator and head gasket... interesting metaphor...

My Uncle Gheen Randolph Abbott is my dad's brother. That's him in the photo waving the flag and wearing the red, white and blue hat while hugging the Canadian beer. His reminiscence about family stories entertained me much of my time there at the beach house, no TV, no wifi. They've owned it for 43 years. My cousins busied themselves with repairs and upgrades to the big old house on a bluff overlooking a beautiful Oregon Pacific view. The weather was clear and spectacular. They accused me of bringing my California weather with me. They didn't complain, though. I explained that, since everything is all about ME, this was the weather I had ordered. I'm sure they were impressed. I know I was.

The Manzanita 4th of July parade was truly homespun and heartwarming. Homemade float riders tossed candy to the people lining the parade route. Unlike the multiple equestrian units of Ojai's parade, there was only one horse, and only one band, and they wore kilts and played bagpipes. The streets in town are narrow and tree-lined and hilly, as the town sits on bluff overlooking Neahkahnie Bay. There was lots of friendly interaction between parade participants and parade applauders, such as "Thank you!" to the veterans seated in beach chairs on a lowboy trailer towed by a dumptruck and "You're Welcome!" back with a wave, and a hard candy tossed tossed to your feet. My naughty cousin called out to another truck full of local high school cheerleaders who surrounded their buck-toothed mascot, "Nice Beaver!" but that's just Chris quoting Leslie Nielson. Okay, Cousin!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

My Road Trip/Quest, day 7: Cow Creek Roadside Rest: All the world's a stage...


The battered gold panning pan was next to a neat cardboard sign emblazoned with:


HOMELESS VET - ANYTHING WILL HELP


The hirsute fellow with the shillelagh at his side and the worn khaki-colored 'Nam campaign hat certainly looked the part. His ZZTop beard was properly ragged and untrimmed. He made no eye contact with the people making a pee stop at this beautiful forested glen. His pan had a handful of change and a couple dollar bills. I watched as a 40-something woman approached and said, rather apologetically, " I don't have any money but I have this..." she offered a Trader Joe's energy bar.


"Mmmm, thank you, peanuts!" The Vet said brightly.


"Yes. Uh, thank you for your service." A proper, politically correct exchange.


"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players..."


"Thank you, ma'am," said The Vet, humbled and grateful. The nice lady retreated, ebullient and self-satisfied to have helped the poor homeless hungry Vet. I mused a bit about the exchange, our societal reaction to homelessness, veteran-ness... but, just a sec, something wasn't right here... The Vet was raggedy, but CLEAN... his eyes were downcast, but not beat down... he wore a campaign hat, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, but there were NO INSIGNIA adorning said hat. My curiosity was peaked.


The Vet had caught me staring at his gold pan and smiling to myself. I grinned at him and asked, "So, are you really A Vet?"


The Vet smiled back and said, "Yes, ma'am." He had all of his teeth. Hmmm... not all methed-out, perhaps. He was leaning heavily on the stick, he looked thin, could be frail, but after all, he was HOMELESS, ANYTHING WOULD HELP, and he was A VET, possibly wounded in combat, one could surmise.


"No peanut allergy, eh?" I said as I walked away. He laughed.


"Nope, I'm lucky, I guess!" I thought about how many of us make our own luck, be it good or bad. So much is based on our perception of any given moment. How could a homeless vet call himself lucky? I thought about the silver coins I brought along on this quest to give away as I choose. I had made them back in 1989 when I was cutting coin dies and pressing fine silver, one-ounce rounds, back when pure silver hovered around $6.00 per ounce. I went to my car trunk and dug one out. Maybe this Vet needed a lucky token. If he was really down on his luck, he could sell the silver now for $50.


The Vet was from Fresno. He lived in safe hidey holes off the sides of abandoned logging roads now. (Maybe.) He dredged underwater for gold until his equipment was stolen from his truck a week ago. (So now he has a truck.) I asked him when he served. He countered with, "What year?"


"How about '67?" He was in high school in '67. (Hmmm, a youngster, then. In good enough shape to work underwater to dredge for gold.)


"Then, how about '69?" Still in high school. He mentioned the Army '72 through '74.


I said, "Where, in Germany?" and he looked at me in dumbfounded surprise. He'd been found out. "You served in Germany in 1972 through 1974? My first husband did, too, and he said it was an extended vacation!" The Vet laughed out loud. He agreed, he'd been very lucky, indeed. He only wished he'd stayed in until '02 and retired... but life occurred. And now, it appears, that he dredges for gold as his day job and panhandles as The Vet at rest stops on weekend gigs.


I gave him the silver coin, anyway, explaining that I hoped it would bring him good luck as a lucky token, that it was worth real money if he ever truly found himself down and out. I told him that I had learned cool engraving skills that nobody much needed anymore, and this coin was my proof, lots of detail, et cetera. I said I hoped he'd find the guy who stole his stuff, and whack him with the shillelagh and get his stuff back but not kill him while he carried my token. The Vet grinned again. "Yes, ma'am, thank you. Actually, I need the luck more than the money." Well, don't we all?


"They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts..."


As I drove away, I looked back. Germany, sheesh! The Vet was studying the details on the coin. Good luck, buddy.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

My Road Trip/Quest, day 6: Adios, Modesto! on the road again...


My friend Glywn was kind enough to say that he enjoyed our quality time together. We met each day for a mealtime visit, to catch up on my exciting side trips, because of course, it is all about me. He followed my blog faithfully to find out what I was up to, and I want to thank him and the (maybe)five other people who have joined me on my quest via this blog. Aren't we the awesome road crew!?


Off to Oregon. No way I was gonna make it 12 hours to Portland, leaving from the car fixit joint at 1 PM. I had to trust that the car was put together right, too. Although I have Motor Motion's Two Year Guarantee in hand, I was going to spend much of that 2 years far afield from Modesto, starting today.


On the road again! I found myself whistling that song this morning while I packed... in my head it was not Willie's voice, but more like my friend Cowboy Mike Ley. The Camry runs better than ever. I stayed overnight in Grants Pass, at The Bestway Inn... I figured if it was the best way, it had to be right. Well, no bedbugs, at least. It was sufficient. I suppose The Sufficientway Inn would not be a suitable motel name.

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Road Trip/Quest, day 5: Ode to Modesto, my temporary home, and Nobody's Got Modesto's Goat...


"In 1912, the downtown Modesto Arch, located at 9th and I streets, was built for a cost of $1,200. The illuminating arch holds 668 lights, stands 25 feet high at its center, and spans 75 feet across I Street. Details of a 1911 contest reveal that the slogan for the arch, "Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health," was selected by a committee of the Modesto Business Men's Association. They paid Sam Harbaugh $3 for his winning slogan."

One of the historic sites gave this straight-forward, no nonsense description of the birth of the Modesto Arch which still graces the I Street downtown Modesto entrance. But the site neglects to add the fact that this chosen slogan that paid out the big bucks to Sam Harbaugh is the second place winner. The first place slogan was:

"NOBODY'S GOT MODESTO'S GOAT"

When the arch was christened in 1912 with a bottle of canal water, nobody could disturb Modesto's calm self-assured sense of civic identity as a center of water, wealth, contentment and health. Nobody had their goat, which represents a level of confidence that could remain unflustered. (I had to Google the phrase to be sure of its true meaning!) From those odd but proud beginnings grew the Modesto of today... can you imagine arriving at the beginning of the 21st century with a civic landmark still standing tall, proclaiming a 19th century expression involving goat-snatching?

Gone are the two majestic flagpoles with the waving American flags. The neat rows of brick faced buildings are replaced by random, un-landscaped parking lots and scads of unmatched modern edifaces. The current close proximity to the monument about city pride of a McDonald's and a Taco Bell probably wasn't foreseen by the health touting Modesto founders. THAT might have got their goat, for sure...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Road Trip/Quest, day 4: To Sonora and that sky...

What an amazing sky day! There were unseasonal raindrops the day before, which made for a sky full of sailing ships of puffy whites on a sea of cerulean blue with a little burnt umber - oops, that's artist techie talk. I apologize. I'll just say it was mighty purty on my drive to the base of the Sierras yesterday.

I went to Sonora for lunch. A small restaurant called Talulah's spoke to me, whispering "pulled-pork on a roll" and I was captive. It was best-ever in the category, if you're ever in Sonora hankering for roasted pig. I enjoyed conversing with the waiter/graphic designer Mark Lewis who moved to Sonora ten years ago, having lived his formative years in San Francisco. He was a self-described Total Bitch in his twenties, making very bad choices, when he had an epiphany in a vivid dream visitation from his beloved departed grandmother. Grams told him he'd better stop his stupidity and be the better person that she knew he was supposed to be, or else he'd be seeing her sooner rather than later. I got the feeling that EVERYTHING is vivid to Mark, but this ubervivid dream turned the bitch around and he was still here, and he is a better person. He was certainly an attentive waiter.

NOTE TO SELF: Sometimes what you have to say may make a difference to your grandkids, but you may have to be dead before it matters much.

Sonora, like my beloved Ojai, has tourism as a mainstay industry. Although we don't call them 'tourists' or have a 'season' in Ojai, maybe for fear that our local gun-pro hunters might think they can buy a tag and shoot them. Instead, they are 'Visitors'. And having Visitors in Ojai is a good thing, because there is basically no other industry. Every decision made by local government gives a large, drooling nod toward Visitors, for bed tax is what keeps City Hall in the black.

Ojai of Old used to support agriculture in the form of citrus groves, education for education's sake as private schools and public schools were comfortably self-(and State)funded and local(county-wide) industry. Plenty of my schoolmates' fathers were employed as Shell Oil engineers and offshore workers, mining engineers and geologists for for gypsum interests up Hwy. 33 - and, of course, all of the support industry that formed to maintain their families' health and upkeep.

Not anymore. We have Visitors. Sounds ominous to me. They come for Art and Lavender and Food and Ambiance. They want to touch our magic, like going to the happiest place on earth.

So, last evening when my new acquaintance Dave asked me, over sushi and by way of making polite conversation, "If you had a magic wand, what would you change about Ojai?"

That's a tough question. Libbey Bowl is fixed now, so that answer is out... the decision to fix the bowl was one of those drooling nods I spoke of earlier. Shirley, it will bring more visitors to Ojai, but don't call me surely.

My answer was "Industry". If I could wave a retro magic wand and focus the eyes of the various governing councils over my fair valley's last twenty-five or so years, I would have expanded with great care the benevolence that small local industry requires to bloom and thrive. What of 'sustainability' if there is nothing to sustain? It is true that some entrepreneurs chose Ojai for its (what? Spirit? Climate? Attitude?) location as a place to raise a family. They had to bring their own small industry with them. My father was one of them. He often said, as long as UPS delivers, he could take his trade with him and live anywhere. That was 45 years ago. Now tighter and tighter controls by our governing bodies at every level squeeze the little guy until there is no spirit, attitude or money left over for a family to survive.

NOTE TO SELF: Don't rant. It's not nice.

After my road trip/quest, I will return to my beloved valley. I will counsel my grandkids. I will make art, hopefully much of it based on this trip. I will offer it for sale to Visitors and to the world by way of the www. I will look up at our blue sky with the occasional puffy white gondolas and be thankful that UPS delivers. I will accost random Visitors and thank them for coming and will engage them in conversation until they assume I want pocket change from them for my habits - in a way, by offering my art for sale, I guess that part is kinda true. I will rant, politely but determinedly, through my cartoony opinions every Friday in the Ojai Valley News.

And I will put by drinking water and heirloom seeds, and continue to nurture my backyard garden, and dream of local, sustainable industry when the Visitors depart.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cattle Egrets in Baker's Field


I am not certain where Mr. Baker actually had his field, but while I was flying my hand up the central valley past Bakersfield I saw white tall birds standing like statues in many fields. They looked like they were posing for Karate Kid maneuvers. I had always thought they were water birds that somehow got lost from the Pacific flyway when I saw them standing around in soggy Ojai meadows in Spring. I assumed they were looking for fishy-tasting snacks because they appeared to be more suited for estuary visitation.

But I was wrong, at least partially. They devour everything, fingerlings included, but unsuspecting field mice and gophers are favorite foods, too. Any living rodent is acceptable prey. These Egrets are welcome to visit all of the fields surrounding my backyard garden. I will keep my cat in the house, just for good measure, in case they'd like to touch down on Franklin Drive. She is small and probably transportable if a large raptor was wanting housecat for supper. I don't think that a Cattle Egret would stoop so low as that, though. They look so statuesque and royal-like; they wouldn't want recycled Friskies for a meal.

Exactly why they are called Cattle Egrets, I don't know, for even though they are reportedly voracious, I don't think they eat cow.

My Road Trip/Quest, day 3: Be Here Now... and make the most of it

Right here, in my easy-on-easy-off freeway access motel room complex is a MickeyD's, Del Taco and a Denny's - what more could a fat girl want from life??? Actually, I was overjoyed to discover the location of Trader Joe's, so McDonald's can remain a thing of my sordid past. This is where I am blooming at the moment. Much of Day 3 was spent as an ordinary work day, in touch with my workspace in Cyburbia by laptop. I updated websites and continued illustrations that were in the works before I left home - still have plenty to do. Work continues=Life is Good=I have purpose=Maybe someone will pay me eventually.

I am noticing a difference in attitude here in the central valley among the people I have encountered doing their jobs. There is an old-fashioned American-style graciousness that I have noticed has been lacking recently in Southern California, even in the small town of Ojai. People greet you when you walk in their door, even in the corporate places like FedEx. They don't do that in the Ventura FedEx office. Folks say hello in passing, just like in the "old" days in Ojai. Sure, there are just as many people engrossed in their laptops and phones, but they actually look up and nod or say hello once in awhile - it is spooky as much as it is remarkable.

My friend muses that it has to do with population density and the stress resulting from that condition - think Rat Race. I feel it has more to do with the infection of Los Angelization, which grows uglier all the time. Simple courtesy gets shrugged at, with suspicion, "Why are you being nice, what are you expecting from me?" We have forgotten how to interact with kindness.

I am appreciating the difference.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Road Trip/Quest, day 2: You gotta have friends...


My friend gave me a car. Mine is in the shop getting a new radiator and head gasket. This puts my Road Trip on hiatus for a few days, but the value of my Quest remains strong - I think what I am evaluating is "Contentment"... what is it that makes people feel content with the life they find themselves leading?

I shared time with a young man who works 24/7 on call, 6 days a week, for Auto Club Towing. He told me a lot about his life, his work history, his wife, his 2 year old son who wears him out and his 13 year old stepdaughter who is very good kid. After our conversation, he summed it up by saying, "It's hard work but I'm lucky, I have a job and a family I love." I had to agree. He has plans and goals, too, that sounded attainable to me, and I wished him even more good luck.

I'm driving a Toyota 4Runner. My friend is a kind generous man who loves his dogs like they are his kids, with all their quirks and shedding. It seems to be his nature to help people. He seems to be content in his effort to help others. It is a reoccurring theme in conversation with him. Lonely 90-year-old neighbor ladies depend upon his kind attention in exchange for pie. In his workday, he helps people who are trying to survive financially and ultimately give back to help others. So an old acquaintance from high school days shows up on his virtual doorstep in need of transport, and he gives her his car. What a guy!

I have to assume he wants it back before I leave town, though. At some point my own Toyota will be running like new. Sort of.

At least now I know what kind of car I want when I grow up.

How to fly your hand

When I was a little kid there were family trips in the old Plymouth station wagon. Sitting in the back seat with one or more brothers, and the windows rolled down in summer heat because car air conditioning wasn't invented yet - at least not in any affordable family vehicle - we had to invent distractions to entertain ourselves. I was fascinated by the aerodynamics of flying my hand.

So driving up the grapevine of Hwy 5 I had the heater turned up full blast, windows down. I figured that with an old car that has spent its whole working life in Ojai, there probably was plenty of cement in the old radiator. Slow and steady, it crested the grade. The temp gauge stayed centered. But the rest of the day in California valley heat took its toll... NOTE TO SELF: Don't use the air conditioner in Madera.

Back to the hand flying: I actually saw other people doing it, too, and not just 6 year old girls.

My Road Trip/Quest, day 1: Lookin' for adventure...

... and whatever comes my way, yeah I got to go make it happen...First day of my Road Trip/Quest started out with great promise! And I am relaxing in my Modesto motel, very comfortably furnished, free wifi, yay! Dinner with Glywn, wonderful to catch up on 40+ years of being friends. It was the part BETWEEN the promising beginning and the Modesto destination that became a challenge - my car overheated and I broke it in Madera. Poor little Camry. Blown head gasket? Or worse?? I got to spend time with a nice young feller who drives tow truck for AAA... learned all about growing up in Los Banos and moving on up to Madera. Whew!


Thank you, Glywn, for riding to my rescue.


I wanted adventure, I must remind myself... I'm getting it!